- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

MIDWEST

Louisville came out of nowhere to earn the top overall seed in the tournament by sweeping the Big East regular-season and tournament titles. Like Pittsburgh and to a lesser extent Connecticut, the Cardinals have an outstanding combination of depth and inside-outside balance. The addition of Samardo Samuels down low has given Rick Pitino a nasty post presence to complement superb wingmen Earl Clark (14.0 points. 8.8 rebounds) and Terrence Williams (12.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists).

But the Cardinals’ improvement from behind the arc is what really has elevated this team to legit title threat. Last season’s Elite Eight team struggled from the perimeter, but guards Preston Knowles and Jerry Smith are more than adequate zone-busters.

The Cardinals still don’t have a true point guard, though Williams does a passable imitation. Nor do they possess much experience in the pivot, where both Samuels and primary backup Terrence Jennings are freshmen. Given those weaknesses, the committee didn’t do the Cardinals any favors in the power-seed department.

Wake Forest is probably a little young and sloppy to oust Louisville, though the Demon Deacons are arguably the toughest out among the No. 4 seeds, particularly if Jeff Teague finds his cape. But Michigan State and Kansas are both the kind of physical, fundamentally sound, defensive-minded teams that could stop the Cardinals short of Detroit.

In typical Tom Izzo fashion, the Spartans are a miserable shooting team with very little semblance of an offense. But they will defend you. They will beat on you. And they will crush you on the boards (No. 1 in rebounding margin at plus-10.1). The Spartans could win in a physical war with Louisville for one key reason: The Cardinals are a very poor free throw shooting team. They aren’t quite Memphis from last season, but Louisville is just about the worst free throw shooting team in the field at 64.5 percent.

As for upsets, nobody should be surprised when Siena dispatches Ohio State after the Saints mauled Vanderbilt in last year’s tournament opener.

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